In The Morning Story (538’s significant digits email), Perry Bacon, at fivethirtyeight.com, explains Why The Republican Party Isn’t Electing More Women. It’s a very long article so here is a teaser about one reason why that’s true: Emily’s List. The broader view, though, suggests that the reason why Republican female candidates at all levels are fewer than Democratic female candidates is a difference in what the two parties value and differences in how they view women.
Democrats have prioritized electing women in a way that the GOP hasn’t. The liberal group Emily’s List, for example, focuses on getting women elected at all levels of government, by encouraging women to run for office, offering them training and helping them raise money. The group, founded in 1985, is deeply enmeshed in Democratic politics, raising and spending almost $45 million in both the 2014 and 2016 elections, and pumping money into the campaigns of dozens of Democratic women currently serving in Congress.
Emily’s List has been successful, researchers say, in part because liberal-leaning women are very interested in its mission.
“Democratic women donors will prioritize electing the female candidate in a primary over other factors that traditionally predict giving,” said Michele Swers, a Georgetown University professor and scholar on women and politics. “Among Republicans, gender has no impact on donations. Republican women don’t give more to women.”
Case in point: Maggie’s List, created in 2010 as a conservative alternative to Emily’s List, raised and spent less than $210,000 in both 2014 and 2016. That Maggie’s List was formed so much later than Emily’s List and has raised so much less money is no coincidence: As Soltis Anderson pointed out, Republican activists are leery of efforts to promote specific demographic groups, including women.
The role that Emily’s List has played in convincing potential female candidates that they should run has been especially vital, according to researchers I spoke with. Surveys have found that women are less likely than men to be asked to run for political office. So leave the political system alone and it’ll skew male. Emily’s List also encourages women to run even if they have school-age children by emphasizing that women and mothers have experiences and perspectives that should be represented in the political system. It’s not clear that potential female GOP candidates are getting such encouragement.
“Running for office would take time away from what they honestly feel is the most important job they will ever do and potentially put their kids in the spotlight and the crossfire,” said GOP strategist Liz Mair, describing the thinking of some Republican women who might otherwise run for office. “And once they’re done rearing the kids, ‘stay-at-home mom’ doesn’t look like the best résumé for a potential congresswoman or senator — or at least they think that’s the case.”
In fact, Republican women may be facing some discouragement to run. In 2014, Pew Research Center asked respondents whether they would be more or less likely to support a presidential candidate who is a woman. Overall, most people (71 percent) said it wouldn’t matter. But 15 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of self-identified conservatives said “less likely” (compared with 5 percent of Democrats and 4 percent of liberals). A Morning Consult poll in 20163 found roughly the same results.